The latest piece in the New York Times ’“Profits over Patients” series focuses on the staffing policies of Ascension, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, drawing a straight line from its cost-cutting practices over the last decade to its current staffing woes. Like previous articles in the series, the piece hones in on Ascension’s profit-seeking motives, pairing pre-pandemic accounts of Ascension executives boasting about savings from slashed labor costs with story after story of its frontline clinicians struggling to provide adequate patient care once COVID hit.
In responses included in the article, an Ascension spokesperson rejected the idea that the system’s workforce policies were responsible for its current staffing crisis, claiming that Ascension has maintained better staff-to-patient ratios than many of its peers.
The Gist: Yet again, the New York Times is shining a harsh light on a health system that has been engaged in management practices common across the industry.
While the piece omits some relevant information, such as the recent spike in labor costs, it’s useful to point out that many hospitals were so thinly staffed prior to COVID that they had virtually no slack in their labor pools, hindering their response to the crisis.
In our experience, the reasons for this have less to do with lining executives’ pockets, and more to do with the realities of dealing with a worsening payer mix and rising input costs. While future hospital workforce strategy is going to have to focus on reducing dependency on nurses—especially in the inpatient setting—any effort to that end must augment nurses with team-based care models and technology solutions, rather than pushing further on already-tight nurse-to-patient ratios.